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The Most Captivating Traditional Costumes of Vietnam

CEO Tinh Phung
Vietnam is a country rich in culture and history, boasting 54 ethnic groups and a heritage spanning nearly 4,000 years. One of the most fascinating aspects of Vietnamese culture is its traditional costumes. These outfits...

Vietnam is a country rich in culture and history, boasting 54 ethnic groups and a heritage spanning nearly 4,000 years. One of the most fascinating aspects of Vietnamese culture is its traditional costumes. These outfits provide a glimpse into the beauty, elegance, and unique characteristics of the local people. Vietnamese traditional costumes have been influenced by various cultures throughout history, resulting in a diverse and captivating array of styles. In this article, we will delve deeper into the origins, history, and cultural significance of these traditional costumes.

1. Ao Dai: The Iconic Vietnamese Traditional Dress

Undoubtedly, the Ao Dai is the most renowned and popular traditional costume of Vietnam. The term "Ao Dai" originated in the 18th century during the Nguyen Dynasty, when the first Nguyen Lord in Hue noticed that Vietnamese costumes resembled those worn by the Chinese. To differentiate their attire and symbolize their aspiration for an independent nation, the Nguyen Lord commissioned the creation of a unique costume. The initial version of the Ao Dai featured five flaps, known as "than," representing the protection and support of the wearer by their four parents.

Ao Dai Ao Dai - The Iconic Vietnamese Traditional Dress

Over time, the Ao Dai underwent various transformations influenced by Western culture. During the French colonial era, an artist named Cat Tuong revolutionized the design by incorporating Western elements, such as a tighter fit and a corset. This modernized Ao Dai became the symbol of Vietnamese national costume. Today, the Ao Dai typically consists of long trousers and a two-flap dress that splits at the waist into front and back flaps.

Despite the growing popularity of Western clothing in Vietnam, the Ao Dai continues to be cherished as a symbol of Vietnamese culture and is commonly worn at formal events like weddings and New Year celebrations. While it is more popular among women, men also wear the Ao Dai for special occasions.

2. Non La: The Conical Palm-Leaf Hat

Vietnamese People Wear Conical Hats Vietnamese People Wear Conical Hats

Non La, the conical palm-leaf hat, is an integral part of the traditional costume for Vietnamese women. As you travel through Vietnam, it is common to see local ladies gracefully donning these hats while walking along the sidewalks. The Non La serves as a practical accessory in Vietnam's tropical climate, providing protection from both rain and sunshine.

The origin of the Non La can be traced back to a legendary tale related to Vietnam's wet rice-growing culture. According to the legend, a goddess descended from the sky and wore a giant hat made of four round-shaped leaves stitched together with bamboo sticks. This hat shielded the people from heavy rainfall, allowing normal life to resume. To honor the Rain-defending Goddess, locals began crafting their own hats using natural materials such as palm leaves, bark of Moc trees, and bamboo. The Non La became essential for farmers working in the rice fields, boatmen and women navigating the rivers, and street vendors in the cities.

Two famous types of Non La are the Non La of Chuong Village, located southwest of Hanoi, and Non Bai Tho in Hue, the ancient imperial capital of Vietnam. Non Bai Tho earned its name, meaning "poem conical hat," due to the intricate Vietnamese poems and folklore depicted on the hat's surface, visible only under sunlight. Additionally, a soft silk tie is attached inside the hat to secure it firmly on the wearer's head.

3. Ao Tu Than: The Four-flapped Dress

Four-flapped dress, Vietnamese Four-flapped dress, Vietnamese

Before the Ao Dai became popular, Vietnamese women wore the Ao Tu Than, considered one of the country's most enduring relics. The exact origin of the Ao Tu Than is still a mystery, but its illustration can be found on Trong Dong (copper drums) dating back thousands of years.

The basic Ao Tu Than consists of three main parts: the "Yếm," an ancient bodice worn to cover the chest area; a long skirt from the waist; and a flowing tunic as the outermost layer. The tunic splits into four flaps, known as "than": two back flaps sewn together to form a full flap and two front flaps that can be tied together with a silk sash at the waist. Originally, Ao Tu Than was dyed using natural colors derived from dye-yam, tropical-almond leaves, or mud. In modern times, Ao Tu Than is less prevalent in daily life but can still be seen during certain festivals and events in the northern regions. The bodice, skirt, and tunic often feature different color gradients, adding to the vibrancy of the costume.

4. Ao Ba Ba: The Shirt of Madam Ba

Ao Ba Ba Ao Ba Ba

While the Ao Dai is considered the national costume of Vietnam, the people of the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam have their own traditional clothing called the Ao Ba Ba. This costume is extremely popular in the rural areas of the southwestern region, where locals can be seen wearing it during their daily activities. The Ao Ba Ba exudes a mesmerizing charm when spotted amidst the green coconut groves, on rowing boats navigating the rivers, or within the bustling floating markets.

The Ao Ba Ba is a collarless shirt with a straight back piece. The front flap is divided into two sections with buttons running from the neck to the belly. This intricate shirt is typically paired with long white or black trousers. The colors and materials used for the outfit can vary based on personal preference. In the past, farmers and peasants in the Mekong Delta wore black or brown Ao Ba Ba while working in the rice fields due to their ease of cleaning. The fabric used is simple, such as single fabrics or linoleum, which dry quickly after washing. Two additional pockets near the hem provide convenience for carrying essential items. Thanks to its comfort and practicality, both men and women in the Mekong Delta wear the Ao Ba Ba in their daily lives. For special events and festive occasions, lighter colors like white or ash gray are preferred. The nobility often opt for young, pale blue colors and more expensive fabrics like silk or satin to showcase their wealth.

Over the years, the basic design of the traditional Ao Ba Ba has remained unchanged, with only minor updates to reflect current fashion trends. The modern Ao Ba Ba for women is narrower and more fitted, accentuating the feminine curves of the wearer's body. It is common to see the Ao Ba Ba paired with a checkered scarf, also known as a bandana, which adds a touch of casual style to the overall look.

5. Vietnamese Traditional Costumes of Ethnic Groups

In addition to the popular traditional costumes worn by the majority Kinh ethnic group, Vietnam also boasts a wide variety of traditional costumes among its local ethnic tribes. While each ethnic group has its own unique style, there is a common theme of vibrant colors and intricate patterns.

5.1 Traditional costumes of the H'Mong ethnic group in Vietnam

Traditional costumes of H'Mong ethnic group Traditional costumes of H'Mong ethnic group

The H'Mong, making up approximately 1.2% of Vietnam's population and ranking as the eighth-largest ethnic group in the country, reside in the Northern and Western mountainous regions. The H'Mong are divided into different subgroups characterized by the color of their dresses, such as Black, White, Blue, Red, and Flower H'Mong. Traditional costumes of H'Mong women are incredibly intricate and vibrant, typically made of linen with colorful embroidered motifs. A complete H'Mong outfit consists of a deep V-chest shirt, a two-piece overall covering the front and back, a broad belt, a headscarf, leggings, and a gather skirt with a truncated cone-shaped design. The women often accessorize their costumes with handmade silver jewelry, such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, adding to their beauty and distinctiveness. H'Mong men wear sleeveless shirts with chest vents, featuring four pockets and four buttonholes, along with drain-pipe style trousers.

5.2 Traditional costumes of the Thai ethnic group in Vietnam

Traditional costumes of Thai ethnic group in Vietnam Traditional costumes of Thai ethnic group in Vietnam

When exploring Vietnam's northwestern region, specifically Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Son La, and Hoa Binh, you will encounter the Thai ethnic group and be captivated by the traditional attire worn by Thai women. The outfit consists of a close-fitting blouse and a long black skirt. The belt connecting the blouse and skirt is usually made of blue, green, or pink fabric, with green perfectly complementing the white blouse and black skirt.

The attire is further enhanced by a beautiful brocade headscarf, locally known as "Khăn Piêu," and a selection of silver jewelry, exuding elegance and modesty. Traditionally, black attire is adorned by the black Thai with a high collar, while white attire with a V-shaped collar is preferred by the white Thai. The front of the blouse features two rows of silver buttons, with female butterfly-shaped buttons on one side and male butterfly-shaped buttons on the other. Interestingly, Thai girls wear a blouse with an even number of buttons, while married women wear a blouse with an odd number of buttons.

5.3 Traditional costumes of the Cham ethnic group in Vietnam

Traditional costumes of Cham ethnic group Traditional costumes of Cham ethnic group

The Cham people, who have inhabited the central coastal areas of Vietnam for centuries, possess a rich culture heavily influenced by Indian traditions. Although Cham costumes are not as colorful as other Vietnamese costumes, they exude their own unique charm.

Both Cham men and women wear long sarongs or cloth wrappers. Men's shirts fasten down the center with buttons, while women wear long-sleeved pullover blouses. The waistband is tied across the chest and around the waist, serving as the costume's highlight with its golden iridescent shades and intricate detailing. During major festivities like the Kate New Year festival, the Ramuwan festival, weddings, and girls' coming-of-age celebrations, Cham women don colorful and captivating long dresses. Only the white dress is worn for religious ceremonies. The Cham dress lacks split flaps, allowing for light, graceful movement. The headscarf is an essential accessory, representing cultural identity and acting as a means of communication since Cham women are reserved and often express themselves through their eyes, lips, and cheeks. A gentle glance or smile serves as a substitute for a greeting.

Over time, the modern Cham dress has undergone slight modifications while retaining its traditional elements. The dresses now feature two intertwined cloth belts, accentuating the wearer's curves and adding to their allure.

6. Final Thoughts

Vietnamese traditional costumes have been influenced by Western fashion trends, with modern and convenient clothing styles gradually replacing them. However, the traditional charm and distinctive characteristics of these costumes are still treasured and proudly celebrated by the Vietnamese people. The elegant beauty of these costumes continues to enchant travelers, offering a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of this captivating country.